Life Cycle Sustainability Assessment (LCSA) of two South African textile value chains: Cotton t-shirt and cotton towel



South African Sustainable Textiles and Apparel Cluster (SASTAC)

Problem Statement:

To provide a baseline of the sustainability performance of the South African textiles industry and to pilot life cycle assessment against two cotton textile value chains.

The Green House approach:

The project was broken down into two distinct phases.

The first phase, undertaken in association with The Moss Group, developed a set of sustainability metrics against which to assess the South African textiles industry. The development process combined input from existing reviews and standards with the insights of industry experts and other stakeholders. Background research included a literature survey of environmental life cycle and social impact assessment studies and a review of sustainability standards. The global focus of these reviews was complemented by research identifying material issues in the South African textile industry and by stakeholder input elicited through two workshops. The workshop outcomes were synthesised with the research component to develop a final set of sustainability issues relevant to the South African textile industry. A core requirement for an issue to be included in the final set of sustainability metrics was that it be measurable (either fully quantifiable or able to be put on a semi-quantitative scale). The number of indicators also needed to be kept to a manageable number. The final step of the first phase of work was to select and/or develop methods to quantify the chosen sustainability indicators. For the environmental impacts, best practice LCIA models were chosen, adapting them for the South African context, where relevant, whilst on the socio-economic side an approach using semi-quantiative constructed scales was selected.

In second phase of the project, a life cycle model of two pilot textile value chains was developed. Primary data was collected via questionnaires followed up with site visits across the entire value chain (from cotton farming through to retail). The life cycle models were built in SimaPro from the site-specific data collected combined with data from The Green House’s proprietary LCI database. The cotton t-shirt and towel were then assessed according to the metrics and models developed in the first phase of the project. To facilitate analysis and interpretation of results, impacts were grouped into common areas of concern using constructed sales, namely impacts on human health and ecosystems, impacts on resources, labour rights and decent work, job creation and community development, commitment to occupational health and safety, and product quality and economic sustainability. This allowed a “snapshot” of sustainability impacts across the value chain to be constructed, producing a highly visual summary of the strengths and weaknesses of South African textile products with respect to their sustainability performance.


The final deliverable of the project was a summary report, together with a full technical report. Interim method and process reports were also produced at the end of the first phase of the project.

The ability of the life cycle approach to provide succinct measures of environmental and socio-economic performance, and thus to benchmark sustainability performance, was demonstrated in the study. The insights from the LCSA was taken forward into the development of a strategy and a sustainability standard for the South African textile sector.